Saturday, October 31, 2009

World Famous Pushkar Camel Fair

Teri - Okay, so I hadn't heard of the Pushkar Camel Fair before, but I guess it's a pretty big deal in Rajasthan. And lucky for us, our GAP Adventures tour just happened to stop in Pushkar during the annual festival! It's pretty awesome - over 5000 camels are bought and sold during the week-long fair, plus cattle, horses, other livestock. We went on a camel ride through the 'semi-desert' of the fair ground and watched the sun set from the back of a camel last night.
We slept in an 'exotic tent' that is the highest-class camping I have ever done - flush toilet and shower inside. I woke up before 7 to sounds of Indian music, musical horns, chanting, birdsong, and people going about their business - there is such an exuberant energy here!
This morning we watched women racing with pots of water balanced on their heads and little gypsy girls balancing on tight ropes and contorting themselves into crazy yoga poses in the exhibition ground.
In the afternoon I wandered around the markets and tried to haggle. I feel very safe and comfortable in Pushkar. But tomorrow, on to Udaipur!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Daunting Delhi

Our first room at the Raunak International didn't have a window but it did have what appeared to be a small elevator shaft, or dumbwaiter, behind shutters - creepy! No towels or toilet paper, and very dingy. We requested and eventually received a smaller but cleaner and brighter room with a window.
At first we wanted to just stay in the room as we were anxious about venturing out, but we did it! We enjoyed some nice meals in the hotel restaurant and ventured down the street to an Internet place where we wrote our first blog posts and to a shop where I'm sure I grossly overpaid for an Indian shirt and pants, but still it was only about $12 Canadian.
On Sunday, the 25th, we went with a hired driver on a tour and saw some sights. My FAVOURITE part was going with a cycle rickshaw driver named Agbar around Chandry(?) Chouk in Old Delhi. The driver was very entertaining, spoke English and some French, and claimed to be friend to many international dignitaries and overall a very important person himself, so we felt lucky to have Agbar as our guide in Old Delhi!

Crazy traffic!

Check this out...An example of Indian traffic - a chaotic combination of rickshaws, motorcycles, cows, goats, pedestrians, and dented cars. We walk through it all and always manage to survive. Make sure you turn up the volume!

Arrival in Delhi

Teri - On Friday, October 23, we took the overnight train from Bhopal to Delhi. We travelled in 3rd class AC with three rows of berths. We weren't sure about security on the train, so we slept with our backpacks and were a little squished, but the ride went smoothly and I slept almost the whole way.
In Delhi train station we were mobbed by taxi and auto-rickshaw 'touts' who wanted to take us to our hotel. They even lied to Chris, saying there was no pre-paid stand, etc. etc. We had been well-coached on how to handle them (ignore them) and eventually made our way to the pre-paid stand, got our ticket, and eventually to an auto-rickshaw that took us 13 km to our hotel. The ride was great! The nice old driver stopped at a chai vendor and gave us each a cup of tea. He stopped by a couple shops, too, where his friends tried to convince us to come inside, but we declined.
Our first impression of Delhi was the streets were wider than in Bhopal, and there were many historic sites, government buildings, and beautifully groomed lawns along the way to the hotel.
Our hotel however, seemed to be in a back alley. I have since learned that what I consider to be back alleys back home are regular streets in Delhi!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Meeting our World Vision sponsor child

Teri - The purpose of our visit to Bhopal was to visit our World Vision sponsor child, Aman, and get a tour of the WV projects in the area. On Thursday, October 22, we were picked up by WV staff and brought to the WV office where we were welcomed as honoured guests and given necklaces of fresh flowers to wear. There we met Aman and his parents and older brother Ganesh. Aman's father had booked the day off work for the event and they were all dressed in their best clothes. We gave the boys a soccer ball and they seemed very excited. Aman was all smiles until his dad tried placing him on my lap for a picture and he started wailing! His parents said (through a WV translator) Aman had been up since 4:30 in the morning, he was so excited, so I guess he was getting tired by this point.
There are over 80 slums in the Bhopal area, and WV is currently working in 26 of them. We visited several of these slum communities. Chris and I got a tour of a couple schools where WV has donated new classrooms, desks and other resources. A group of local youth and women shared with us how World Vision has helped them start up children's groups focusing on children's rights and ending child labour, a women's self-help group that started its own bank and loans money to members to start their own businesses, and empowering local volunteers to tackle the problem of tuberculosis by raising awareness and linking TB sufferers to proper treatment., and much more.
We visited Aman's home: His parents greeted us with more flower necklaces, a red dot on our foreheads (like a bindi but not a bindi) to wish us luck, chai tea and snacks. They were extremely gracious and generous; keep in mind they live in a two room 'house' with none of the luxuries we in the West consider necessities. They gave us a family photo to keep, and they only had a total of about eight photos in their possession. I was extremely touched by it all!
Meanwhile, while we were drinking tea inside, a crowd of local children and women had gathered outside. As we were leaving we stopped to pose in pictures with the group that had congregated. Again we felt special! (Also overwhelmed and more than a little guilty.) Aman's father told us to "Come again!" ;)
I think I'm still processing the meaning of that day. It was truly humbling to witness the poverty of the slums and to experience the generosity and graciousness of the residents. I came to really appreciate the good work that World Vision is doing to provide hope not hand-outs to these communities. Meeting Aman and his family has definitely strengthened our commitment to child sponsorship and I'd encourage anyone considering sponsoring a child to go for it!

A Few of Chris' Reflections...

Here area few of my personal reflections so far in list specialty! mostly from Bhopal and a few from the trip to Delhi...

stray dogs wanderng around, dodging traffic & sleeping in the streets
cows seeming to be homeless and covered in paint and garish neck adornments!
goats roaming around the streets
no rhyme or reason to traffic "laws" in this country...lanes are a figment of the imagination
horns used as turn signals/instead of turn signals
men taking movies of us with cell phones during our lunch in a coffee shop
kids asking us for autographs!
one kid wanted me to take his motorcycle for a ride...he was practically shoving the key in my face - I told him I didn't want to die today
cell phones in slums
sleeping on a train in the middle bunk stacked 3 people high
being stared at and cat-called by Indian women (maybe not so much!)
paying about $1.70 (85 rupees) for a 35 minute cab ride from the train station to our hotel
cab driver stopping on the side of the street for a cup of tea and a biscuit while en route to our hotel in, what are you doing?

this is one crazy place my friends!

Bhopal - culture shock

Teri - I don't know who was more 'shocked' - us or the Indians. Bhopal is not on the usual Indian tourist circuit and doesn't see a lot of foreigners. Here are examples of how our visit played out...
- We got lots of stares everywhere we went - some people just looked curious and others seemed to think we were quite the spectacle, like sighting a celebrity!
- In the Indian Coffee House, two grown men took our pictures and one man actually stood up, came over to our table, and was taking video of us!! All we were doing is eating lunch, but I guess we were quite the unusual sight! Our World Vision hosts explained that many people in Bhopal may not have seen white people except for in the media.
- We signed autographs for two teenage boys who requested them.
- We posed for many pictures with various locals.
- We engaged in conversation with people eager to practice their English and share their pride for India.
- Our World Vision sponsor child was sure he had seen us on TV!
Overall, the people in Bhopal treated us very well and we felt, well... 'special'!

Bhopal - lake, traffic

Hopefully I can post the case I can't, use your imagination...beautiful lake with fishermen minding their nets, a rowing team and kayakers training on the water. We walked along the 'boardwalk' along the lake taking in the atmosphere.
Sounds idyllic, but now add this into the picture...
- the traffic in Bhopal is CRAZY! No lanes, just a free for all amongst cars, auto-rickshaws, scooters, motorcycles, pedestrians and dogs. Everyone HONKS constantly, and the sound of honking was the constant soundtrack playing in our hotel room. You'd think that with all this going on people would choose to use the sidewalk if one were available, but we felt like oddballs for using it (and for other reasons I'll get into later.) Most people prefer to walk on the street, and not on the side of the street either, right in the middle with vehicles honking and narrowly grazing them as they continue on their way unperturbed.

Arrived in Bhopal / Jet Lag

Teri - Bhopal is called the "City of Lakes". Our hotel, Rajit's Lake View, is situated on Upper Lake, with all 20 rooms facing the lake. The view was beautiful! The room was not to our usual standards but did the job, which on the first day, was to give us an opportunity to rest from the flight.

I tried to heed my mom's advice and get on local time as soon as possible, but I gave in to the unrelenting desire for sleep. We slept most of the first day in Bhopal, just having breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and otherwise not venturing out of our room. I told myself I had six weeks to explore India, and it was okay to spend the first day in the room getting adjusted.

The Journey to India

Teri - The trip over to India went better than we hoped - seamless actually! We travelled Winnpeg to Toronto to Frankfurt to Mumbai, where we spent the night in the airport, before taking a domestic flight to Bhopal, which is in the state of Madya Pradesh, in central India.

We sat with an elderly Gujarati lady on the flight to Mumbai. She was sitting in my seat by the window and insisted she was in the right seat. Indian passengers behind us convinced her she was in the wrong seat, but she stated she wanted to sit by the window - whatever, I preferred being on the aisle anyway. She was very friendly and educated us about the Indian meal we were served on the plane, including a mixture of seeds that are traditionally chewed after a meal to freshen one's breath.

That's all I could come up with for an interesting tidbit about the flights!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Almost time to leave...

Hello to our "followers" and anyone else reading this pre-departure tidbit.
Maybe I shouldn't have left all my packing until the night before? I realize this now at 12:36 a.m. of the day we are catching our flight to India! Everything fit in the backpack on the first go (barely!) so I'm not doing a re-pack...although I am looking forward to purging a few items once I realize that I really don't need that extra pair of socks. Needless to say, Teri and I are exhausted and it's a good thing we were well fueled up with ham & potatoes at Ma & Pa Wilson's at suppertime. We're sure looking forward to finally getting on that plane and starting the long journey to our first destination in India!
Our first stay is Bhopal to visit our world vision sponsor child Aman in the project there - we'll get to Bhopal early Wednesday morning and world vision staff are supposed to be at the airport to meet us and take us to our hotel. Our visit with Aman is on Thursday and we'll spend Friday checking out points of interest around Bhopal before taking the train to Delhi on Saturday. Other than looking for evidence of the 1984 gas tragedy, I'm not exactly sure at this point what we'll find in Bhopal! I'm sure there are plenty of sights...
Thanks to everyone taking an interest in this blog, we hope to have lots of stories and pictures for you over the next few months!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This will be the route we will take during the 3 week tour from Delhi to Kochi, October 26th to November 15th. Details of the trip can be found at
Less than 2 weeks til departure ...Can't wait!!